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Homeland security to the next level
By James S. Gilmore III and P.J. Crowley
The Washington Times
February 27, 2005

In sports, the first coach of an expansion franchise is expected to compete. The second coach is expected to win. The challenge for Judge Michael Chertoff, the new secretary of homeland security, is how to lead the department to the proverbial next level, and make America safer.

Judge Chertoff has never faced a bureaucratic challenge this complex or been in a spotlight this bright. He is assuming arguably the most difficult leadership assignment in Washington, merging 22 federal agencies into an effective department. Congress will not make his job easier. He must credibly explain the nature of the threat to the American people, free of manipulation. He needs to increase the federal government's coordination with cities, states and the private sector. What should he do?

One team, one fight. His first challenge is internal -- transforming homeland security again. Understandably, Secretary Tom Ridge's emphasis was on creating a new department. Mr. Chertoff has to unite it behind a common mission. The military calls this jointness, something DHS lacks. Mr. Chertoff can overcome turf battles and inspire teamwork, but he must demand greater focus and discipline from his new team, backed fully by the president.

Concentrate on the threat, not just vulnerabilities. His second challenge is Congress. Since September 11, 2001, elected leaders from big states have pushed aid to urban areas, where al Qaeda has attacked before; rural states want a broader distribution because attacks can occur anywhere. As a result, resources are spread too thin. Urban area security grants originally went to a handful of large cities; now it's 50.

Our approach must be more than a guessing game with criminal minds. Mr. Chertoff needs to push DHS to complete a long-overdue national threat and vulnerability assessment, enabling us to make informed choices that move us closer to real readiness. We have to look beyond obvious targets and understand both what terrorist networks want to do and what their capabilities are; and decide where the threat and risk to our society are most significant, how to protect what we value and who should do it.

  • Good intelligence is essential. In his confirmation hearing, Mr. Chertoff endorsed a "risk-based, vulnerability-based system." If this means greater emphasis on the threat, and not just vulnerabilities, he is on the right track.
  • Find out what the private sector is doing. Since 85 percent of our critical infrastructure is in private hands, we need to know what businesses are investing in security and guide those efforts within a strategic framework. A combination of carrots and sticks will be needed to improve private-sector preparedness -- voluntary approaches if they work; incentives where they are available; and strict standards and government intervention where necessary. Where the private sector is already engaged, DHS needs to verify that programs are actually working.
  • Eliminate risks. Knowing we can't defend everything, we have to find ways to take risks off the table. For example, if "60 Minutes" can enter a chemical plant without being detected, so can a terrorist. The government could require stronger fences. But working together, the chemical industry and the government should really eliminate risks entirely by substituting less dangerous substances for highly toxic and flammable materials, reducing inventories or hardening chemical storage. D.C.'s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment plant substituted nontoxic materials after September 11 not because it was ordered to do so but because it made sense. This also reduced the hazardous materials transported by rail through our nation's capital, shrinking a related risk.
  • Act where the private sector cannot. Where our economic well-being is potentially threatened, the government must take the lead. If this is war, we can't wait a decade for market solutions to evolve in critical areas. In its final report a year ago, the Gilmore advisory panel recommended that by 2009 all air cargo, like passenger baggage, be screened. Unfortunately, the debate thus far has centered on why it can't be done -- too expensive, too time-consuming, no technology -- rather than why it must be done.
More is required to help states, cities and the private sector secure our ports, where a dirty bomb explosion in a shipping container could stop our economy, creating economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Terrorism insurance is another area where the government must play a direct role for the foreseeable future -- no effective market-oriented solution will soon emerge. We invented the just-in-time business environment, which improved productivity and drove our recent economic growth. We have no choice but to secure it.
  • Create a vision the American people will support. An open society has made us a prosperous and admired nation. We shouldn't construct a Fortress America, because we can't defend everything. We must decide what national preparedness is needed and ensure it's achievable and affordable. If the American people want more security, they have a duty to demand it and be willing to pay for it. The American people need to join this debate with their elected officials and private-sector leaders, since security is a shared responsibility. We all face this threat and must deal with the results if we are wrong.
  • Freedom around the world and at home. Civil liberties must be viewed as the key goal, not an impediment. The president has rightly set out freedom in the world as the cornerstone of his foreign policy. It must also be the hallmark of homeland security. Diminishing our rights in the name of security is wrong. If we try to keep tabs on terrorists by intruding on everyone's privacy, we will pay too much in liberty lost. While we promote freedom around the world, we shouldn't be looking over our shoulder here at home.

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush pledged that we owe our children "a freedom from fear." The key to this promise is having both an effective offense and a credible defense. Throughout our history, when our country has mobilized to defend freedom, our battles have been mostly overseas. Now, because of September 11, we know national security is not just an away game but a home game too.

We are safer today than three years ago. But we still have much to do to bring homeland security to that higher level.

James S. Gilmore III is a former governor of Virginia and chairman of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism involving Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is now a partner at Kelley Drye and Warren and president of USA Secure, a nonprofit homeland security policy institute. P.J. Crowley is a senior fellow and director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress. He served in senior staff positions at the White House and Pentagon during the Clinton administration.

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